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Israel: Law for Compensation and Assistance to Passengers for Cancellation or Flight Changes Due to Covid-19 Adopted

(July 20, 2020) On July 13, 2020, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) adopted a temporary amendment that affects the consumer rights of air travelers whose flights were cancelled or changed during the period of March 1, 2020, to August 31, 2020, in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Aviation Services (Compensation and Assistance for Cancellation or Changing Flights Conditions) (Novel Coronavirus – Temporary Provision – Amendment) Law, 5780-2020 (Amendment Law), amending relevant provisions of the Aviation Services (Compensation and Assistance for Cancellation or Changing Flights Conditions) Law, 5772-2012) (Compensation Law).)

The Amendment Law also applies to passengers whose ticketed flights were scheduled to take off before March 1, 2020, from or to destinations that required returning passengers to quarantine. The amendment may be extended for an aggregate period of nine months, depending on the imposition by other countries of COVID-19-related entry restrictions that significantly affect travel of passengers from and to Israel. (Amendment Law §§ 1(2) & 2.)

According to the Amendment Law airlines and charter-flight operators whose flights were canceled during the applicable period will not be required to pay compensation of 1,250 to 3,000 new Israeli shekels (about US$365 to $875), depending on the flight distance, as stipulated by the Compensation Law. (Amendment Law § 3(a)(4) & 1st supp.; Michal Raz Haimovitz, Aviation Law Adapted to Days of Corona Has Finally Been Approved. What Do You Need to Know About It?, Globes (July 14, 2020).)

The Amendment Law extends the period for receiving a refund for flights that were cancelled or changed under conditions prescribed by the Compensation Law, from 21 to 90 days following the original flight date, or by August 14, 2020, whichever comes later. (Compensation Law § 3(a)(2); Amendment Law § 1 (2).) Instead of a refund, passengers may be offered a choice between an alternate flight ticket or a gift card that can be used for the purchase of any service sold by the airlines or the charter-flight operators within a year after issue. If the refund alternatives cannot be used within this period, a refund should be issued. (Amendment Law § 1(4)(a)(2).)

The Amendment Law further limits hotel accommodations, as relevant, for passengers affected by flights cancellations to a maximum of two nights. (Compensation Law § 6(a); Amendment Law § 1(4)(a)(1).)

The Amendment Law has been criticized as providing assistance to airlines at the expense of passengers. According to one commentator,

[i]t is not inconceivable that airlines will not rush to return money to passengers even at the end of the 90-day period stipulated in the amendment (for some passengers it is even a period of about six months), and it is not inconceivable that some airlines and tourism companies will cease to exist during this time, and passengers will never get their money back. (Ehud Pie, Amendment of Law That Will Assist Airlines at Expense of Passengers, YNET (July 15, 2020).)